The great toy divide

Lego Ad

This picture and article showed up on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday. When you click, it will open in a separate window. I recommend reading the article first as it has more pictures comparing then and now of specific toys.

I’ve commented before that I read a blog called Raising my Rainbow and how Jeremy was a lot less girly than C.J. at that age. And in many regards that’s true. Jeremy loved The Magic School bus and Thomas the Tank Engine when he was little. And dinky cars (the brighter and more metallic the better). He could, and did, drive them around for hours. But, at the same time, toys were a lot more gender neutral. Lego came in bright primary colours and bicycles pretty much did too. The only real difference between a boy’s bike and a girl’s bike were the bars connecting the seat to the handle bars. Jeremy got Emma’s hand-me-down bikes for years without any comments.

We had dress up clothes in the living room and both my kids loved wearing them but they were odds and ends I’d collected. A sheer sequin covered shawl, a tiara, and some foam masks I picked up at the dollar store. A lavender slip and a lacy nightgown that looked a lot like a wedding dress, both bought from a second hand store. And a pair of ballerina flats because I thought the dollar store high heels were too small and slippery. Both kids had lady bug wings from Halloween costumes and there was a wand kicking around but that was it. Actual costumes were for Halloween and got packed away with the decorations.

I just went through our photo albums. The fanciest their Lego got was a set of Winnie the Pooh Duplo; that came with a handful of plastic flower/leaf shapes and a spiral slide. Otherwise they had riding sticks with plush animal heads, basic Lego, Tinker Toys, Sesame Street figures, Teletubby figures, dinky cars, a Thomas the Tank Engine set, and an Oneida tea set complete with Oreo cookies. The kids played interchangeably with all of them.

Years later, the kids and I were walking through Walmart and I was floored to see Disney princess dress up clothes mixed in with the regular clothes. The boys, of course, had super heroes. This was nowhere near Halloween, these were for every day use. I was floored.

Then my sister got pregnant with her second child. The ultrasound said she was having a girl but there’s always a possibility it’s wrong. I went to Old Navy to pick up a neutral newborn outfit only to find those didn’t exist. I could not buy a pale green or yellow sleeper. They were either pink and labelled princess or blue and red with sports themes. There was no in-between.

I like bright colours and picked bright clothes for my kids. Plus I tend to buy in second hand shops and just pick the ones that appeal to me. Not to say they never wore boys clothes or girls clothes but most of the time they just wore jeans and bright t-shirts. Last time I went clothes shopping with Jeremy, it was an exercise in frustration for both of us. Literally half the mens department was Duck Dynasty and the rest was camo and dreary. Jeremy picked out one shirt that he loved but it was hand wash and lay flat to dry, which translates to “this will never be washed”. That won’t work for him. And the younger sections are even worse.

Note, I’m not saying that the past was wonderful. I know it wasn’t. I went to high school in the 1980’s and remember overhearing classmates bragging about driving to downtown Toronto to “throw rocks at the f*gs”. No one came out in high school at all. I had a friend who everyone was pretty sure was gay, and he was, but he certainly didn’t come out then. It wasn’t safe. Meanwhile Emma went to the same high school I did, just twenty years later. She attended a school with pride flag stickers plastered everywhere, announcing this was a safe environment. Several of her friends came out in grade nine.

I can’t help thinking though that we’re making it safer for teens and adults to come out while segregating and compartmentalizing our children. Jeremy loved pink when he was little, it was his absolute favourite colour. He had several pink stuffed animals and a pink baby stroller for his baby. But that was pretty much it, the rest of their toys came in primary colours. Most of their clothes were in those colours too. I can’t help but wonder what his choices would have been if everything was split between blue/red and super heroes or pink/purple and glitter with nothing in between. No choice to simply be a kid.

Jeremy was invited to a birthday party when he was four years old. The birthday girl’s mother bought Barbie napkins for the girls and plain blue napkins for the boys. Jeremy insisted on having a Barbie napkin because pink was his favourite colour. I have a feeling, in this gender oriented marketing environment, he’d probably be almost as pink as C.J.

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